1.”Hey, honey. How was your day?” The baby is crying. The toddler is babbling, and seeing him yells “Daddy!” “Fine,” she says.
2. He opens the door slowly, almost grudgingly, walks in tentatively. She is hunched over the sink, staring at a mound of dishes and then turns to glance around at the toys and mess strewn around the room, before looking up at him. Her face shows a mixture of exhaustion and annoyance. “How was your day, ” he asks mechanically. They both wince at the sound of the baby screaming. He walks over and picks her up just as the toddler runs into his leg, “Daddy!” The pause before she answers is not really that long, but it is full. “Fine,” she says in a tone that says the opposite. He rolls his eyes, not really at her, but she sees it. She slams the glass in her hand down on the counter and walks away.
These two vignettes tell the same story, and they tell two totally different stories. The reason for this is that so much of the communication between couples is nonverbal and so much goes unsaid, beneath their words. I could have written a third version to include their thoughts and perceptions, their beliefs about themselves and the other and the relationship, and how all of this impacts their actions and words. I could have added how he was expecting her to be annoyed with him, the minute he opened the door and heard the baby crying and saw the mess, or even before on his drive home as he anticipated the same interaction that seemed to happen every day now. That when he said, “How was your day?” that was not what she heard, but rather, “What have you actually been doing all day, and why is the house such a mess?” And when she replied, “Fine,” he heard “you messed up again, you’re never there for me.” And of course, the eye roll and the walking away were the two loudest things they never said, “I’m not happy, you are losing me.”
They don’t have to go on like this.
There is so much help available for couples in therapy now. It used to be that the field of couples counseling was focused mainly on communication coaching and learning communication techniques. I hope the vignettes above demonstrate why that is not enough. The couple above could learn to speak different words to each other and it may help a little, at first. But it would not address the inner worlds in which each is trapped, reaching towards the other as if each is in a cage of glass, never quite able to connect.
Emotion Focused Therapy is a method that excavates all these things we never say. It even reaches down to things we are not quite aware of. It is effective, research-based and it creates lasting change in relationships. If you related to the stories above, even though your story is different and uniquely yours, please come in for a consultation. You don’t have to go on like this, and there is help for your relationship. Together we can create the change you want, and your relationship can be the most fulfilling part of your life.